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At 60 Tons, This Dinosaur Feared Nothing


You might have heard this past week about a newly discovered dinosaur. Scientists believe it's one of the largest animals to ever walk the earth. To give you some idea of its size, it's as long as a high school basketball court, weighs as much as a dozen elephants, and stands more than two stories tall.

Researchers found its skeleton buried in south Patagonia Argentina. They named it Dreadnoughtus. We wondered what it might be like to happen upon the skeletal remains of such a creature, so we called Matt Lamanna, who was a member of the excavation team. He's Assistant Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh.

Lamanna joins us from member station WHYY in Philadelphia. Welcome to the program.

MATT LAMANNA: Thanks so much for having me, Lynn.

NEARY: Now, I know this dig took place over a number of years but when you started out, did you know there was something really big at this site? Or did this discovery come as a big surprise?

LAMANNA: It was a magical day. I mean, we - the very first day of the expedition, we uncovered pretty much the whole hind leg of this dinosaur and knew we had something special. The thigh bone alone is taller than me, and I'm about 5 foot 10 inches.

Literally, the first bone we uncovered was this giant thigh bone. And even better than that, it was connected to the shinbone, connected to the ankle. And I would say the most important thing about Dreadnoughtus is not so much its size but the fact that we have a great deal of its skeleton.

NEARY: Who came up with this great name, Dreadnoughtus?

LAMANNA: I wish I could say it was me. It was my colleague and the lead author of the paper, Ken Lacovara. Ken would come to me with ideas and I would say, hey, I like that. No, I don't that. And we ultimately, very democratically decided on Dreadnoughtus.

Dreadnoughtus means fearer of nothing. And when we ran the numbers and realized how big this dinosaur was - you know, upwards of 60 tons, you know, as long as a tennis court - when you're that big, there's not much you're afraid of.

NEARY: So is Dreadnoughtus now your favorite dinosaur?

LAMANNA: Yes, it is absolutely one of my favorite dinosaurs. But I have to say, my favorite dinosaur of all time - it's a dinosaur called the Carnotaurus, and it's this really weird, meat-eating dinosaur from Argentina. It inspired me when I was a preteen, probably about 11 years old. It introduced me to the amazing worlds of southern hemisphere, southern continent dinosaurs. And so that's shaped my career to this day.

NEARY: I'm thinking about how they're going to have to revise all the children's books about dinosaurs to now include this new species.

LAMANNA: It is an absolutely amazing feeling when you open up a kids' book and you see one of the dinosaurs you named in there. It's like life comes full circle.

NEARY: Matt Lamanna is a dinosaur curator at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. He helped find the Dreadnoughtus dinosaur bones. The bones are scheduled to return to Argentina next year to be stored and cared for at a museum there. Thanks so much for joining us.

LAMANNA: Thank you so much for having me, Lynn. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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